Tag Archives: awe

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Thousand Word Fridays: Flashes of Neon

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Photo by Jason Sierra (2014)

I wonder if the lilac-breasted roller knows how spectacular he looks, floating behind the Zebra, chasing flies. I wish I were  a butterfly or  a mantis shrimp; I’m sure there are colors there I’m missing between the pink-orange and neon blue, cocking his head to look more closely at me. Click click click.

(Pilanesburg, South Africa)

 

Joy and Awe

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My church is beautiful.  Really beautiful. It has lots of stained glass windows, a high wooden beamed ceiling, and a large cross suspended above an ornate alter that is perfectly placed in front of the most impressive organ I have ever seen. (Though I have to admit I have not seen very many organs.) To add to the beauty, each season of the church year brings with it a few changes to the décor. The alter is draped in different colors, the priests wear different vestments, and the types and colors of the flowers change. Each time these changes occur it reminds me of how beautiful our sanctuary is. While all the seasons are uniquely pretty in their own way, Advent is the most beautiful to me. Poinsettias given by members of the congregation in honor of their loved ones are used to decorate the chancel and just the right amount of garland lines the window sills. Then there’s the Advent wreath. Lighting the Advent wreath was my favorite part of being an acolyte because each time an additional candle is lit the anticipation of Christmas grows.

When I was younger I can remember sitting in the pew and being in awe of the beauty of the Christmas spirit, and the presence of the Holy Spirit around me but there was one thing that bothered me. The Advent wreath had three blue or purple candles and one light pink candle. Because everything else seemed so perfect, that pink candle did not look like it belonged and it always attracted my attention. “Why wouldn’t our church just get a candle that matched the other three,” I would think. I never asked this question aloud and in hindsight it was very foolish of me to think that the reason for the pink candle was simply that we were out of blue ones. I am what’s known as a “cradle” Episcopalian, or life-long member of the Episcopal church, and because of that I have an understanding and respect of its traditions. I know that everything is done for a special reason and probably has an unusual and hard to pronounce name to go with it. (Sometimes I wonder how you can go your whole life as a member of the church and still not have been told the reason for or name of a lot of our traditions but that is another topic all together.)

I was very happy when many years later I finally learned that the pink candle is not a misfit. Not only does it have a reason for standing out in the Advent wreath but its meaning makes it one of the most significant decorations of all. It turns out (in case you also didn’t know) each week the lighting of the Advent candle has a different meaning; hope, peace, joy, and love. The first purple or blue candle is known as the “Prophets” candle and symbolizes the hope that Old Testament Jews had that a Messiah would one day come. The second purple or blue candle is the “Bethlehem” candle and represents the peace that the new Savior would bring, ending the long spiritual rift between God and mankind. The light pink candle is the “angel’s” candle (or in some traditions, the “Mary” candle) it symbolizes the joy of Heaven that a Savior was finally to be born. The last purple or blue candle is the “Shepherds’” candle and represents the love or adoration of those ready to accept the gift of the Christ child. The large white candle in the center, often lit on Christmas or Christmas Eve is the “Christ Candle” and represents Jesus as the “Light of the world,” or the Epiphany, God on Earth.

So why is the pink candle the symbol of joy and not hope or peace? Because the origins for many of our church traditions are steeped in theology and speculation I thought Google might help me better understand that question. One idea that I felt drawn to is that in the early Church the only official season was Lent, the 7 weeks prior to Easter. This was a somber time full of fasting and repentance in commemoration of Jesus’ crucifixion, but even during this time there was an element of hope and joy because after Jesus’ death came the resurrection. Therefore, on the third Sunday of Lent people were encouraged to feast rather than fast, and the Pope would honor a citizen with a pink rose. Over time priests began to wear pink vestments on this day as a reminder during a very somber time that joy is to follow Lent. When Advent was added to the church calendar, it was in a way a “mini Lent”. In honor of the third Sunday of Lent being a joyful time, the third candle of the Advent wreath was changed to pink rather than blue or purple. (You can find another answer here.)  Knowing this is what made that pink candle that bothered me for so long come to be a symbol of joy in my life.

Though this reason for the pink candle comes from a very old tradition I think it holds a valuable significance for us today. At this time of year life is crazy. Holiday preparations are in full swing and we are rushing around getting gifts, making travel arrangements, cleaning house, managing way too many end of year tasks at work, and are generally just too overwhelmed with life. The stress may be taking over or we may be really excited about presents, Christmas lights, traveling, and drinking eggnog. Either way we are so wrapped up with everything going on around us that we can lose sight of why Advent is so significant to us as Christians. I’ll admit that this time of year is important for countless reasons but the main, and most important, reason for us should be that we are preparing to celebrate the greatest Christmas gift of all; the birth of Jesus.

That pink candle sits in the Advent wreath as a reminder to be joyful for this great gift, which is something we often forget and desperately need to be reminded of.  Even though the pink candle does not have a great meaning for everyone its message is universal. It is something that is meant to remind all of us to be joyful in the true significance of this holiday season. We just have to take the time to notice it and most of all, we have to allow ourselves to reflect in awe and joy that is the miracle of Christ’s birth.

548244_3844046908309_692607037_nToday’s Advent author is Lauren Freeman St. James Episcopal Church in Greenville, SC.  She is a graduate of Clemson University and works as a middle school guidance counselor.  When Lauren is not busy taking care of her students at school, she is trying to slow down for the season while simultaneously preparing for her wedding in June. 🙂

Science

Somebody did this.

This is you. Amazing.

These exist.

There are many Facebook pages that give homage to the wonders of science, but my favorite is Science is Awesome.

In a world where people constantly fail to honor the wonder of life around us, the complex mysteries of other human beings, and the infinite miracle of our own bodies, these pages provide a constant stream of opportunities to marvel at the miracle of existence.

When God called himself “I Am that I Am” in the book of Exodus, God claimed existence itself as the divine wonder, the beauty of being as the unknowable foundation. Christ showed us that we didn’t have to stare into the cosmos to see that wonder, that it was right in front of us every moment.

So when I wonder at the posts on this page I am reminded that life is so much bigger than my own little tragedies, that the beauty of all life is an invitation into the divine fullness of our own lives.

Sunbreaks

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The sky is made of steel here

but once in a while

the sun’s diamond-bladed rays

pierce through.

The heart of heaven

bared for a brief moment

to break across

these jagged western mountains;

our silhouettes not even muddying the fringes of her coat

as she leans across the yawning city

to reflect dimly in the windowed towers,

who, with waking wonder,

stop to marvel.